<img src=http://news.siu.edu/photos/Lehrer.jpg><br><br>WASHINGTON — Jim Lehrer, the poker-faced anchor of public broadcasting's nightly news program, has moderated more presidential debates than anyone — tonight will be his 10th. This time, he may be watched almost as closely as President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry.<br><br>Lehrer was criticized by operatives from both parties in 2000 for not speeding up the conversation between Bush, then the governor of Texas, and Vice President Al Gore in the second of three debates between the two. A former Democratic pollster said Lehrer moderated the encounter like "some kind of sherry hour" at Harvard.<br><br>He might have been content to concentrate on his much-praised news show, his collection of bus memorabilia and his books — he is the author of 14 novels, two memoirs and three plays.<br><br>Instead, he is back for another round.<br><br>As he has for every debate he has moderated, starting in 1988, Lehrer has purchased a new tie (if history is any guide, its color will be in the wine or burgundy family), solicited question suggestions from colleagues at PBS and squirreled himself away for hours at a time to wade through background material.<br><br>Lehrer also brings to his task an unusual dedication to neutrality: He stopped voting in 1964 to wall off his personal beliefs from his professional duties.<br><br>Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., co-chairman of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, said there was little doubt among planners in selecting Lehrer as the moderator for the first of the three Bush-Kerry matchups.<br><br>"He's the premier person in this area," Fahrenkopf said. Asked if the commission was concerned by the criticism of Lehrer's 2000 performance, Fahrenkopf said, "We figured the rest of you in the media were jealous."<br><br>Lehrer seems a throwback to a more civilized era, when quiet discourse characterized news. Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania calls him "relentlessly polite."<br><br>"In an era of shout television, he is the custodian of old journalistic values," she said.<br><br>His informational style of interviewing pervades the "News- Hour with Jim Lehrer."<br><br>"His philosophy is that our viewers are smart enough to assess the guests for themselves," one colleague said. "Our e-mail shows he is right. Our viewers don't need a moderator to pound a point down their throats."<br><br>The 70-year-old Lehrer has refused all pre-debate interviews, telling colleagues that the spotlight belongs not on him but on the candidates. In interviews after previous debates, he often dismissed his own role.<br><br>In 2000, he said: "If somebody gets up from an interview and they can remember my question but not the answers, that is a failure. I know how important this is, but it's not about me."<br><br>Born in Wichita, Kan., James Charles Lehrer graduated from Victoria College in Texas and the University of Missouri.<br><br>After three years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, he worked for 10 years as a newspaperman in Dallas, and then as host of a local experimental news show on public television.<br><br>He came to Washington in 1972 to work for the Public Broadcasting System, teaming with Robin MacNeil in 1973 to cover the Senate Watergate hearings.<br><br>Soon the two launched the first 60-minute evening news program on television — "The MacNeil-Lehrer Report." MacNeil retired in 1995.<br><br>Lehrer suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1983. Afterward, he rearranged his life. "I decided not only what I would do with my life, but what I would not do," he told an interviewer in 1997. "Once I got rid of the 'nots,' I had time to do what I want to do."<br><br>He takes a daily nap. He writes books, squeezing in time between news meetings and on weekends. And he collects.<br><br>Lehrer's office is filled with bus stuff. His father owned the Denco Bus Co., a small firm that served cities in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma too small for Greyhound.<br><br>Nearly every inch of his office is taken up with a bus sign, a model bus or some other tribute to a different time in American history, much of it purchased on EBay. He has been known to imitate a conductor, the names of small-town routes rolling off his tongue.<br><br>Every morning at 10:15, the senior correspondents and producers gather in his office to review the previous night's broadcast and plan for the day's show. (Lehrer recently criticized his own performance in interviewing Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.) Every so often he cuts the meeting short, saying an EBay auction of a bus item of his liking is about to end.<br><br>"Jim never lost his sense of self," said former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla), who is president of the University of Oklahoma. "He never developed an overgrown ego; he never lost his ability to go to any place in small-town America and be himself."<br><br>Boren, who with his wife, Molly, often socialized with the Lehrers in Washington, said he never heard Lehrer express a political opinion. "He sees his role as a reporter, not a personality," Boren said. "He won't go into the debate with any agenda except to draw out both candidates to allow the American people to make their own decision."<br><br>Not everyone is sold.<br><br>Martin Schram, a columnist for Scripps Howard, criticized Lehrer for a question to Bush during a 2000 debate, in which he asked if the Texas governor thought it was true that Gore exaggerated his accomplishments — a virtual invitation to critique his opponent.<br><br>"That question was very uncharacteristic of Jim," Schram said Wednesday, adding that he considered Lehrer generally one of the best moderators in the business.<br><br>One question hanging over Lehrer's performance this time is how much flexibility he will have to steer the debate, given a 32-page agreement between the candidates that, among other things, restricts the format for follow-up questions.<br><br>David Gergen, a former advisor to Republican and Democratic presidents who teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, thinks Lehrer will rise to the occasion.<br><br>"This debate will be watched by a far wider audience than the others, and it's on a subject of central importance to the country," Gergen said. "On the 'News- Hour,' Jim has devoted countless hours to trying to illuminate the story of Iraq and what's going on overseas, and he's done it with impeccable integrity.<br><br>"Jim Lehrer," Gergen added, "is the perfect moderator for the most important debate of the political season.<br><br>
<blockquote><font size=1>In reply to:</font><hr><p>Lehrer also brings to his task an unusual dedication to neutrality: He stopped voting in 1964 to wall off his personal beliefs from his professional duties<p><hr></blockquote><p>So the guy has no opinion because he's not voting? I don't buy it. It just makes it harder for folks to "prove" his bias by asking what his voting record is. That said, the Leherer New Hour is more news oriented than any of the network broadcasts.<br><br>
I have nothing but giddy admiration for Jim Lehrer. In fact, I know of only one moderator I like better and he's a local broadcaster named Phil Ponce. Coincidentally, both of them work for PBS with Phil on the local affiliate in Chicago, WTTW. You can catch him and his colleague Elizabeth Bracket every once in a while as national correspondents to NewsHour when something big happens in Chicago.<br><br>There just isn't anything better than news from the public broadcasting sources. If that poll a while ago that showed PBS/NPR viewers/listeners were better informed than consumers of any other news product didn't make it clear that public was the way to go, I have no idea what can.<br><br>Y'all can have your NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, and FNC. Just don't touch my PBS and C-SPAN!<br><br>-- Charlie Alpha Roger Yankee Whiskey<br>
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